Thursday, July 12, 2012


Political Mayhem Thursday: $35 Million in Tax Money to Baylor to Build a Football Stadium

[click on the photo to enlarge it]

So, Baylor is building a new football stadium near campus to replace the one it already has in Waco, and looks set to receive $35 million in tax money to help build it (the total cost will be around $250 million). According to the Waco Trib, the money will come from the "Tax Increment Financing" (TIF) fund that is earmarked for development in central Waco. The previous largest gift from the fund was $2 million.

I have a few problems with this.

First, I remember a few years ago when the TIF Board turned down a request from the Rapoport Academy, a public charter school within the TIF zone. The school's request, for much less than $1 million, was to support the renovation of a building to use as part of the school's mission to educate primarily poor black kids in East Waco. I am utterly stumped as to why that project was less deserving that this give-away to Baylor.

Second, it is hard not to notice that many people involved with this giveaway is among those who are strongly opposed to President Obama because of his... spending tax money on stuff like health care and roads. I understand that view to some extent (we ARE living beyond our means), but not the hypocrisy in both holding that view and supporting this giveaway. Sorry, but if you want to give money from taxpayers to Baylor to build a football mansion, it undermines the moral authority of your profession that we shouldn't spend so much tax money on other things.

Third, where is the "economic development" for Waco in building a stadium that will simply replace another one, recently renovated, that is also in the city? If they were luring, say, TCU away from Fort Worth, that might make sense. But the people who will spend money in Waco when they come to a Baylor game at the new stadium are already doing so. Moreover, Baylor is not going to threaten to move out of town like a pro team. Why is it defensible to use the taxes people pay to fund a stadium for a team that is not ever going to move out of town and already has a stadium in Waco?

Am I wrong?

"Wrong" is such an ugly word. You bring up some important points about hypocrisy and sustainability and good stewardship. Of course, you have framed the argument in a manner befitting a former prosecutor. I will try to get back on here later and offer a few reasons why reasonable people might find a public investment of $35 million in a football stadium in Waco, Texas, a pretty safe bet in terms of return on the money and furthering the goals of development in Central Texas.
I spent an hour in a classroom of Rappaport Academy and a longer time at a Baylor football game. Both were great experiences. The most valued experience was the time spent with the amazing students of Rappaport.

I agree with WF that reasonable people will think that the stadium is "a pretty safe bet in terms of return of money and furthering the goals of development in Central Texas". Unfortunately 'reasonable people' too often think in terms of short term safe bets. Long term bets that make more people's lives better and are long term better investments have greater political risks today. If Central Texas development is similar to Texas development in its goals, it is on its way to reaching one of those goals, greater disparity in wealth and influence, sad as that is. Dad
As I say, I appreciate the forum. I would like to work through this issue (maybe a few bites at a time).

Before we really get into it, here are a few notes on terms before we start building:

1. You say "giveaway." Politicians usually say "investment." President Obama called his stimulus the Community Reinvestment Act. Rush Limbaugh called it the "Porkulus." One man's captain of industry is another man's robber baron.

2. The great scandal regarding the CRA was that such a small percentage of those 100s of billions of dollars actually went into infrastructure. Generally, building bridges and roads and public buildings garner fairly bipartisan approval. Even President Obama regrets his unintentionally false claim regarding "shovel ready" projects. So, many of the Presidents critics really are not critics of putting people to work building infrastructure. All parties agree that they wish there had been more of that in the stimulus.

3. The hypocrisy highway runs both ways. If you believe in government leading and spurring investment in big public projects (or in this case partnering with private investors to contribute to a local project), why is this instance the exception?
WF-- I'm not sure I see the hypocrisy running that way. As you will remember, I was even against the bank bailout (and on that one, in retrospect, I was wrong and you were right).

I think government spends too much money. It is especially egregious when there is little return, as is the case here.

Making it worse is the fact that the public schools are a mess in Waco. The year I left, out of 700 AP tests taken, there were only three 5 scores received, and most of the test-takers failed.... and that's just covering the school's failures to its best students.

That said, I don't think money is the answer, in isolation, to that problem. But if you are going to spend tax money on something... well, my dad is right about the value of those different investments.
Correction: the Obama stimulus was called the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Community Reinvestment Act was something else entirely. Sorry for the crossed-wire misfire.
I will say it again, I'm glad you offered this subject. It is worth pursuing; there is so much here to work through. It's complicated.

A Suggestion:

For the purposes of this discussion, decouple the Rapoport and Baylor projects. I don't know much about why Rapoport did not get the money they requested (and you have not told me much to help me understand).

Granted, Waco public schools are a disaster. But, as far as I know, Rapoport Academy is considered a big success in this town and a wonderful example of some creative thinking and public and private partnership.

As you say, money is not always the answer (especially when you are talking public education). Are you arguing that Rapoport is less likely to do good things because of the TIF incident? Even if you are, and you are right, it would not mean that the 35 mil for Baylor is not a good thing. Two separate issues.

Let's pick one (or discuss both and decouple the two). But this framework seems to me a false choice with moral appeals that confuse the real questions.
I'm against it as well. I think if Baylor wants to build a new stadium they should pay for it themselves, through borrowing and/or donations. But, I also think there is a reasoned argument in favor of it:

1. You're right, we are trading a new stadium for an old stadium, which may not have an impact on the number of people here for football weekends. However, many if not all of the contractors that will build the stadium will be from central Texas, which means there will be a direct reinvestment of that money into central Texas companies, which will in turn be reinvested into the central Texas economy. Also, there is much anticipated development associated withe the stadium (restaurants, etc.) which could increase investment in Waco. The area around Floyd Casey isn't really susceptible to such development for various reasons, but the area where the new stadium will be located can be further developed. Will all of that an out? Probably not. But a $35 million investment is not, in the parlance of infrastructure projects, a sum of money so great that the risk is that high.

2. There may be reasons, in fact I suspect there are many, for not providing TIF funds to the Rapoport Academy other than a belief in small government and limited spending. For example, a person might not support public financing of a school that only provides education to a particular group of students. This is often a position taken by those who are opposed to voucher programs. My guess, and it is just that as I could not find a news story on the TIF funds for the Rapoport school, is that there was opposition on grounds other than a desire to limit government spending.

3. I also think there is a difference between being against limited spending and government at the federal level versus the State or local level. One of the tenants of the more federalist minded conservatives is that spending is fine, but that it should come from the most local level of government possible. When the USFG spends $35 million it is often much less likely to get where it needs to go than when a city or county spends that money. I don't necessarily agree with that view in this case, because tax money is tax money and I would prefer we not spend it on a football stadium for a private university (even if it is the most awesome private university in the history of the universe), but I don't think that is a wholly unreasonable position to take.
I agree with RRL's basic arguments for private-public partnership (and I respect his principled stand against it). Some of this is pretty fundamental--and it goes back to Hamilton and Clay and Lincoln.

Why has the government been involved in things like this over time?

1. To stimulate growth and facilitate general prosperity. As Joe Biden once said: "it is all about a three-letter word: J-O-B-S."

2. To direct investment. The government gets out front and others follow. Likely, and I think I am more optimistic than RRL, that area over there is going to boom.

3. To have a role in decision-making / planning. Money equals influence. In this case, according to the Trib article, Baylor is making a point of very publicly throwing community access into the overall pie.

4. To create public spaces and structures that bring joy to the community. In Texas, a really cool football stadium will definitely be a source of pride for Wacoans.

In re hypocrisy, the "road runs both ways" comment was not really directed at you specifically, Mark. You are an odd duck. You are a self-described small government liberal. That is, you seem to detest big government but keep voting for candidates like John Kerry and Barack Obama.

But for the people (editorial "you") who see those Rachel Maddow commercials in front of the Hoover Dam and say, "now that's what I'm talking about," I just wonder what their beef could be with this example of government investment?
Maybe the Baylor Regents should just pray to the Aqua Buddha for guidance.
What a waste! Another cathedral to the great god Football is just what the world needs! Aren't there enough temples to his glory already?

Seems that $35 million invested in the abysmal Waco schools would be a much better long term investment in the area. There is a large blighted area in view of the Golden Dome that would benefit from reinvestment in housing and schools.

Of course, this wouldn't get someone's name preserved for posterity, or provide the venue for the worship of the lords of Saturday.

What a shining example of Christian priorities this will be for Baylor.

Looks like “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” doesn’t apply to football arenas.
Tunnel vision is incompatible with education long term goals but it pairs brilliantly with instant gratification construction jobs.
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see

RG3 how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me
As a Baylor supporter and fan who lives 4 hours away, I am far more likely to attend a game or two every year in the new stadium. There is a contingency here (none of which are current season ticket holders) talking about securing a suite. The increase in out of town attendance at the new stadium will be phenomenal. And this place will be a showcase unlike any other in sports. And Waco will be the second biggest beneficiary.
Hey Now! To one involved in the design of two WHA and three NHL hockey arenas, be gentle to the design teams – eye catching context renderings have helped pay for my son’s education…

TIF has theoretical advantages by creating funding for public and private projects by “borrowing” against the future increases in property tax revenues of surrounding new or redevelopment projects – though projected surrounding development is seldom fully realized, property tax revenues will increase. If the new stadium is a powerful enough magnate, the physical and social benefits will be felt.

May I also assume, a portion of the additional athletic department revenue generated from private suites, club seats, concessions, team store merchandise and more goes into the general university scholarship fund – not only to fund non-revenue sports budgets – as it does at the University of Minnesota.

Hopefully the project also includes space in the new stadium for campus, band, social event, etc… activities during and before / after the football season – a portion available for multi-purpose activities.

Warning! Keep an eye on architects, they often envision social engineering achievements and visions of design awards while dismissing the intricacies of cost / benefit analysis – “Pretty” sought - at the expense of purpose and practicality…

TWF has it right, “the ‘road runs both ways’ “and coins have two sides. Heads or tails?
Has anybody checked the dismal record of the supposed economic impact of the Olympics? The infusion of capital in infrastructure improvements and venues that didn't quite pan out?
I guess JoePa hasn't taught them a damned thing!
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